Transcription of plastid genes and transcript accumulation were investigated in white leaves of the albostrians mutant of barley (Hordeum vulgare) and in heat-bleached leaves of rye (Secale cereale) as well as in normal green leaves of both species. Cells of white leaves of the mutant and cells of heat-bleached leaves bear undifferentiated plastids lacking ribosomes and, consequently, plastid translation products, among them the subunits of a putative chloroplast RNA polymerase encoded by the plastid genes rpoA, B, C1 and C2. The following results were obtained. (i) Plastid genes are transcribed despite the lack of chloroplast gene-encoded RNA polymerase subunits. The plastid origin of these transcripts was proven. This finding provides evidence for the existence of a plastid RNA polymerase encoded entirely by nuclear genes. (ii) Transcripts of the rpo genes and of rps15, but not of genes involved in photosynthesis and related processes (psbA, rbcL, atpI-H), were abundantly accumulated in ribosome-deficient plastids. In contrast, chloroplasts accumulated transcripts of photosynthetic, but not of the rpo genes. (iii) Differences in transcript accumulation between chloroplasts and ribosome-deficient plastids are due to different relative transcription rates and different transcript stability. (iv) The observed differences in transcription are not caused by an altered pattern of methylation of plastid DNA. Thus, the prokaryotic plastid genome of higher plants is transcribed by two RNA polymerases. The observed differences in transcription between chloroplasts and undifferentiated plastids might reflect different functions of the two enzymes.